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Types of Classification of PHRASEOLOGICAL UNITS

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Phraseology as a branch of lexicology

Lecture 7


Phraseology as a branch of lexicology. Classification of PHRASEOLOGICAL UNITS. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS AND CLICHÉS


The present lecture deals with word-groups consisting of two or more words whose combination is integrated as a unit with a special­ized meaning of the whole, such as not for the world, with half a heart, ups and downs, sleep like a log, can the leopard change his spots? it goes without saying, and so on. Stability of such word-groups viewed as of statistical probability is a reliable criterion helping to distinguish set expressions from free phrases with variable context.

Opinions differ as to how this part of the vocabulary should be defined, classified, described and analysed.

Scientists use the same word "phraseology" to denote the branch of linguistics studying the word-groups having stable structure and meaning. These groups are usually called phraseological units.


Every utterance is a patterned, rhymed and segmented sequence of signals. At the lexical level these signals building up the utterance are not exclusively words. Alongside with separate words speakers use larger blocks consisting of more than one word yet functioning as a whole. These set expressions differ greatly in structure, func­tion, semantics and style. Not only expressive colloqui­alisms, whether motivated like a sight for sore eyes and to know the ropes, or demotivated like tit for tat, but also terms like blank verse, the great vowel shift, direct object, political clichés: cold war, round-table conference, summit meeting, and emotionally and stylistically neu­tral combinations: in front of, as well as, a great deal, give up, etc. may be referred to this type. Even this short list is sufficient to show that the number of component elements, both notional and formal, varies, and that the resulting units may have the distribution of dif­ferent parts of speech.

The integration of two or more words into a unit functioning as a whole with a characteristic unity of nomination (bread and butter = butter and bread) is chosen for the fundamental property, because it seems to permit checking by a rigorous enough linguistic procedure, namely, by the sub­stitution test.

There are three basic principles of classifying phraseological units: 1) according to the stage of freedom of word co-occurrence and 2) motivation, which are semantic and 3) a formal principle, according to the function the phrase plays.

According to the first principle, set expressions are contrasted to semi­fixed combinations and free phrases. All these are but different stages of restrictions imposed upon co-occurrence of words.

In free phrases the linguistic factors are chiefly connected with grammatical properties of words. A free phrase such as to go early permits substitution of any of its elements without semantic change in the other element or elements. The verb go in free phrases may be preceded by any noun or followed by any adverbial. Such substitution is, however, never unlimited.

In semi-fixed combinations lexico-semantic lim­its are manifested in restrictions imposed upon types of words, which can be used in a given pattern. For example, the pattern consisting of the verb go followed by a preposition and a noun with no article before it (go to school, go to market, go to courts, etc.) is used only with nouns of places where definite actions or functions are performed.

No substitution of any elements whatever is possible in the following stereotyped (unchangeable) set expressions, which differ in many other respects: all the world and his wife, the man in the street, red tape, calf love, heads or tails, first night, to gild the pill, to hope for the best, busy as a bee, fair and square, stuff and nonsense, time and again, to and fro. These examples represent the extreme of restrictions defined by proba­bilities of co-occurrence of words in the English language. Here no vari­ation and no substitution is possible, because it would destroy the mean­ing of the whole. In a free phrase the semantic correlative ties are fundamentally dif­ferent. Each element has a much great­er semantic independence. Each component may be substituted without affecting the meaning of the other: cut bread, cut cheese, eat bread.

According to the type of motivation, three types of phraseological units are suggested: phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and phraseological combinations.

Phraseological fusions (e.g. tit for tat) represent as their name suggests the highest stage of blending together. The meaning of components is completely absorbed by the meaning of the whole, by its expressiveness and emotional properties. Phraseological fusions are specific for every language and do not lend themselves to literal translation into other languages.

Phraseological unities are much more numer­ous. They are clearly motivated. The emotional quality is based upon the image created by the whole as in to stick (to stand) to one's guns, i.e. 'refuse to change one's statements or opinions in the face of opposi­tion', implying courage and integrity. The example reveals another characteristic of the type, namely the possibility of synonymic substi­tution, which can be only very limited. Some of these are easily trans­lated and even international, e.g. to know the way the wind is blowing.

The third group in this classification, the phraseological combinations, are not only motivated but contain one compo­nent used in its direct meaning while the other is used figuratively: meet the demand, meet the necessity, meet the requirements. The mobility of this type is much greater, the substitutions are not necessarily synonymical.

Now we pass on to a formal and functional classification based on the fact that a phraseological unit functioning in speech may be similar to definite classes of words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.), whereas they also may vary structurally.

According to this principle, they distinguish set expressions that are nominal phrases: the root of the trouble; verbal phrases: put one's best foot forward; adjecti­val phrases: as good as gold; red as a cherry; adverbial phrases: from head to foot; prepositional phrases: in the course of; conjunctional phrases: as long as, on the other hand; interjectional phrases: Well, I never! A ster­eotyped sentence also introduced into speech as a ready-made formula may be illustrated by Never say die! 'never give up hope', take your time 'do not hurry'.

The above classification takes into consideration not only the type of component parts but also the functioning of the whole, thus, tooth and nail is not a nominal but an adverbial unit, because it serves to modify a verb (e. g. fight tooth and nail); the identically structured lord and master is a nominal phrase. Moreover, not every nominal phrase is used in all syntactic functions possible for nouns. Thus, a bed of roses or a bed of nails and forlorn hope are used only predicatively.

Within each of these classes a further subdivision is necessary. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to give only the prin­cipal features of the types (HO).

The list of types gives a clear notion of the contradictory nature of phraseologocal units: structured like phrases they function as words.

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